Monday, February 8, 2010

Arriving at Someday (Babble)

I grew up in a pretty house in a suburb of Detroit. People not from the Detroit area can’t imagine there is anything but the dismal blight there that gets shown on the news, but there are a lot of beautiful places and things, and some of the houses built back in the 1920’s are absolutely incredible. Something about the kinds of details those houses included, the layout, the scale, all appeal to me. My childhood home has leaded glass windows, a practical yet graceful layout, interesting tiles and doors, and I’ve always loved it. It was a privilege to grow up in such an attractive space.

When Ian and I were first dreaming of owning a house we got some books out of the library of different models and plans so we could figure out what we liked and what would work with our hopes for the future. The houses we kept coming back to were all from the same era as the house I grew up in, which should surprise no one, but it confirmed something about myself that was useful to know. I always hoped that someday I might have an elegant old house of my own.

I think most people have a mental list of things they hope will happen ‘Someday.’ Someday often seems like a mythical land where everything will improve and life will be easier. Someday my baby will sleep through the night. Someday I will make enough money that I can afford to replace that ugly furniture. Someday I will have my dream job or a spouse who loves me…or a pretty house. Real life is such that fixing one thing doesn’t solve everything, but sometimes it almost lives up to the expectation. The baby sleeping through the night is a big deal, even if it doesn’t help with the laundry.

When the house across the street from us came up for sale, my heart took a little leap. It’s a house I’ve liked since the first time I stepped foot in it, from the era I’ve always admired, and I wouldn’t have to leave my neighborhood. Financially it would be a stretch, but I kept coming back to a particular Someday in the back of my mind. Someday I wanted a pretty house, and it hit me that I was forty already, and if it was ever going to happen, Someday had to become Now. Now is the time for that house because we need every room, every closet, every cupboard. I could raise my kids in a space that was functional but with a window seat I could sit on to read to my son and pretty cabinets to store Aden’s clay creations. A formal dining room was not on my husband’s personal list of ‘Somedays’ but he likes helping me achieve the things on mine so he made it happen. I love him.

I’m still a little stunned when I walk into our new house. We’re rethinking things and changing light fixtures and figuring out what would make this house work best for us, but for the most part the house is just lovely and I can’t believe I’m going to get to live in it. The previous owners didn’t use the front door regularly, but we will be, so in the first room we’re adding a light fixture, moving switches, adding outlets…. Several rooms were already perfectly attractive colors that we liked, but we have to make them ours for it all to feel right, so we’ve been doing a lot of painting. We took out the carpet in our new bedroom because of Ian’s allergies and now it has a whole new look to it. Each time I carry an object over from the current house, the new one feels a little more like mine, but it’s still a strange transition.

Aden surprised me the other night when I announced to my mom I was running across the street for a moment to talk to my friends who were doing wiring in the kitchen. She jumped up as I headed for the door saying, “I want to come too!” She’s still been putting up some resistance about the move, but she does love the terrace off her new room, and her new closet. She walked around with me as I inspected progress here and there, and as we stood in her new room together, she turned to me with tears in her eyes and said, “Mama, I’m really trying to like the new house, but it doesn’t feel like my home. My room doesn’t feel like my room.” I was so impressed that she was able to describe her feelings that well. I held her while tears streamed down her face and told her I was feeling the same way. I experience the odd sensation of being excited about the new house when I’m in it, and then I cross the street and I’m home.

I told Aden that I took all of her emotion about the move as a compliment, because it means I did an excellent job of creating a happy home for her–one that she cares about deeply enough to fight for in her own childlike way. I did my best to explain that we were the ones who make it feel that way, and we will bring that magic with us when we all live in the new house. If we did it once we can do it again (only this time with a dishwasher and nice woodwork). She agreed to trust me on this. I know what it’s like when what you know and what you feel don’t sync up, and it’s uncomfortable, but we’ll both get past it. I’m sure sooner than either of us will expect.

By the way, the “We” who are doing all of this work on the house are my mom who came to paint the first few days, and friends who know how to do electrical things and are willing to help me sort out design details and watch my children while I move boxes. It is very strange to be doing this without my husband. I am not kidding myself that when it comes to decisions about wall colors and light fixtures and furniture placement that he would even have an opinion. I know it would still be all me because I’m the one who is interested, but not even to have him there to nod as I show him paint samples makes me sad. In our current house we built so many memories by working on things together. I like that I picked out light fixtures and my husband put them in. There will always be something for him to do later (there is always another project to do on an old house), but it’s weird that he’ll come home to it up and running and lived in already. We’ll have to be content with, “Hey, remember how you didn’t have to move that, or that, or that?”

Arriving at some Someday doesn’t mean the dreaming ends. There is always something new to hope for, and I think it’s acceptable to do that without seeming ungrateful for what you have. A certain level of dissatisfaction keeps things changing, and without change we don’t learn. I’m thrilled with the new house. I can’t believe that’s actually happening.
And you know what? Someday my husband will be home from the war and he can enjoy it with me.

(UPDATE: Photos!)

A previous owner thought it would be cool to use a headstone as an address marker. It’s the most convenient landmark in the neighborhood. I used to say, “We’re the house across from the one with the headstone.” Now I just get to say, “We ARE the house with the headstone!” Here’s Aden leaning on it after school today just before she filled the mailbox with snow.
This is our current house as seen from the headstone. It’s nice! Just not big enough for five people and a violin maker’s workshop. If you’re looking for a nice place to live in Milwaukee only two blocks from Target and with cute kids to wave to from across the street, let us know.
Freshly painted dining room complete with drop cloths and paint cans strewn about. (It looks more blue in this picture than in real life–we tried to match the greens in the stained glass on the cabinet doors.)
Part of the living room with my pretty staircase.
Built in cabinets next to the fireplace. (We are still in the process of figuring out if the fireplace will be usable in some form. It took a lot to convince Aden we couldn’t just start making smores the first day we went in.)
View out the back screen door of our snowy snowy deck.
Other things will be more fun to take pictures of later when they’re not all torn apart and so messy. I’m so happy! I can’t wait to be all moved in at some point. It will probably be a couple of months yet. It’s sort of interesting owning half the houses at my intersection. I feel like some sort of tiny land baron covered in a lot of snow. I keep looking out the window at our new house and thinking about how the view could not be more different from what my husband is seeing in Iraq unless it were underwater.

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